By: Damon Gonzalez
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How to Save Money on International Flights
In my last post I shared six international travel hacks to help you spend more time on the road while staying connected to the office. Today I want to show you how to save on one of the most expensive costs of a trip: airfare.
Be Flexible on the Where
If you are like me, you want to see the world and have a dozen or more places that you would be happy to visit. The very best way to save on flights is to pick a general time you would like to travel and then wait for a deal to determine where you go. My favorite resources for finding cheap travel deals are www.scottscheapflights.com and www.travelzoo.com. I recommend that you enter your email in both of their sites and they will send you a few deals each week. Scott’s site has a premium service for $39 per year where you are first to receive his emails and you get more deals than non-paid subscribers.
In the past few weeks, I have been sent alerts for the following round-trip flights:
From To Price Normal Price
Austin Galapagos $537 $1,200
Dallas Milan $443 $750+
Dallas Paris $572 $850+ for Summer flights
Dallas Kuala Lumpur $650 $850+
You only have to book one international flight every few years to pay for his subscription fee. He finds “fat finger” or mistake fairs, where the airline misprices some flights by accident. Travelzoo.com aggregates deals from all over the web and is really good for finding tours and package deals. They recently had an offer for a round-trip flight to Cancun and four nights in a 4-star, all inclusive hotel for only $589 per person. With prices like this, you can live a fabulous life without breaking your budget.
Sometimes you will receive insanely low priced offers to cities that you don’t particularly want to visit. If the price is low enough, you may still decide to fly to that location and book a second flight or train to a place you would prefer to visit. You can fly all over Europe for about $75 or less on Ryanair. If you see a great price for a round-trip ticket to Hong Kong, you may want to book that flight and then look for a second round-trip ticket to your preferred destination.
How to Shop if you aren’t Flexible
Sometimes you just really want to go somewhere and the sites above aren’t sending you great airfare deals. Let me walk you through a recent ticket that I searched for. Texas is a terrific place to live 9 months of the year, but the Summers really wear me out. Getting a break from the Texas heat is refreshing and enhances my quality of life. One of my goals for 2017 is to become fluent in Spanish and I want to fly into Santiago, Chile and make my way East through the Mendoza wine region and ultimately get to Buenos Aires, Argentina and Montevideo, Uruguay. I have ruled out booking a tour because I am looking to stay in hostels and with locals to practice my Español.
The first thing I do when booking an International trip is to go to www.google.com/flights and do a search for a round-trip ticket and click on the calendar and then flexible dates. Before I make my flight decision, I want to first know what my cheapest round-trip ticket will cost and then I will decide if it is worth paying extra for more convenient options. When I select a round-trip flight to Santiago, Chile with up to one stop, I get the following results.
As you can see, the best prices for a one stop trip are $1,310 and there are a few days you want to avoid if you don’t want to pay $100 or more for that ticket. Returning on the 14th or 15th is something I would try to avoid to save money. My next step is to review the actual flights the search engine found. I discover that the return flights for this price all had a four hour layover in Mexico City in the middle of the night and I prefer not to add four hours to a 10 hour flight. I use the same tool to find several nonstop flights to Santiago for about $1,665 round-trip. This is another good data point to help me decide which flight to take.
I plan on spending a few days around Santiago and then plan on making my way due East to Buenos Aires. I prefer not to fly across the continent back to Santiago, so I use the multi-city search to find my ideal non-stop itinerary for $1,985. That is only $320 more than the round-trip, non-stop ticket to Santiago. A search quickly reveals that I could fly back to Santiago for $147 from Buenos Aires. That sounds like a hassle and a long layover in an airport I would like to avoid. I think it is worth it to get the multi-city non stop flights below.
Since I have plenty of time to wait for a better price, I select the box to receive emails with price updates for my chosen flight. My preferred flight could drop in price in the next few months. If you live close to another big airport, you can also search for flights out of the further airport to find better prices. Perhaps you could fly from New Jersey if you lived in NYC or Seattle if you lived in Portland, OR. I have zero interest in driving to Oklahoma City or Austin before this trip, so I will skip that step.
There isn’t a lot of demand and competition for flights from Dallas to Chile and Argentina and $1,985 is more than I really want to spend. I decide to log into my American Airlines AAdvantage account to see how many miles a one way flight to Santiago would cost. As you can see below, I can get a non-stop flight any day I want for 30,000 miles plus $5.60 in fees.
According to The Points Guy, an American Airlines mile is worth about 1.5 cents for the average flight. I know from experience that multi-city international flights are by far the best flights to purchase with mileage. I calculate how valuable my points are if I convert them into this flight. The non-stop round-flight I want costs 198,500 cents. When I divide the ticket cost by the 60,000 miles I would use, I find that I am converting my miles for 3.3 cents per mile. That is more than twice what they are usually converted for. This is the perfect flight to pay with miles instead of dollars. This would also be one of the few times that it would make sense to buy extra miles on a special if I needed them. Even with sales, it rarely makes sense to buy miles.
Fortunately for me the American Airlines Citi card is offering 50,000 miles when you open a new card and spend $3,000 in the first three months. I decided to open a card for my business and I already have 10,000 miles to get to the 60,000 to buy both flights. Points lose value faster than inflation, so use them as quickly as you accumulate them.
In addition to the three sites I discussed above, I have heard great things about the following websites:
www.momondo.com – Good for searching for international flights. It searches flights for some of the foreign airlines that don’t show up on some of the U.S. based search sites.
www.airwander.com – This site specializes in helping you find stopovers in cities that could save you money. You can pick your ultimate destination and add a couple day stopover in another city that you would also like to visit. I found an acceptable flight from Dallas to Buenos Aires and back with a few day stopover in Santiago for $1927.
I hope these ideas help you find great flights and make you a better traveler as you explore our planet. I just booked my flight to South America with miles and I look forward to skiing the Andes and drinking Malbec while my friends in Texas are stuck inside by their air conditioners. Best wishes for your travels.